WASHINGTON, June 25 (RIA Novosti) – Popular US comedian and talk show host Jay Leno says his fellow Los Angeles residents don’t pay him much mind when he cruises around the city in his Soviet-built Volga Gaz-21 sedan, though he presumably draws some glances when yelling “Perestroika” out of his window.
“The novelty of being a vintage Russian car is about all the Volga has going for it. Still, I like it for what it is, and cruising in the Volga puts me into an entirely different frame of mind,” Leno, a vintage car collector who has hosted the popular late-night program “The Tonight Show” for more than 20 years, wrote in a recent essay for the US magazine Popular Mechanics.
“Driving down the road, I find myself yelling, Perestrooiikkaa! But I have to remember that if I wander into a Russian community, a few older people might still get a chill down their spines,” Leno added, though he did not specify why a mention of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1980s reform program would rattle elderly émigrés.
Leno said that he acquired his 1966 model of the Soviet-built car around 18 months ago and that it met his expectations for a vehicle built by a “Communist country of the 1960s.”
“It’s overbuilt, it’s slow, and it’s as utilitarian as a screwdriver,” Leno wrote.
The Gorky Automobile Plant in what is now the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod began producing the Volga GAZ-21 in 1956 and continued making the sedan until 1970. The cars were widely deployed as taxis and for use by Soviet police and security services, including the KGB.
Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin received a specially built Volga after becoming the first human to travel into space in 1961.
Leno noted that the car is known as the “Russian Volvo” but said it was made “just a little thicker and a little sturdier” than cars produced by the Scandinavian company “and most other automakers.”
“The Volga isn’t particularly well-made, but it’s very strong, like bull,” Leno wrote.
Leno isn’t the only famous fan of the Volga. In 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin took then US President George W. Bush for a spin in a 1956 ivory-colored Volga, even letting the American leader take the wheel.
In his 2012 income declaration, Dmitry Medvedev – Russia’s former president and current prime minister – stated that he owns a Volga GAZ-21 built in 1962.